Editorial

The Jared Porter Story Is A Painful Reminder What A Tough Job Women Sports Reporters Encounter Every Day By Rich Coutinho Met Beat Reporter @ The NY Extra.com

As this Jared Porter story flashed before our eyes the past few days it reminded me of the research I did in my Book Press Box Revolution as in one Chapter I talked About Women On the Beat and the road they have to travel. Here is an excerpt from my book detailing that journey. As men we MUST all remember support for diversity in necessary and we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Here is the chapter I wrote in my book Press Box Revolution:

As I began my sports reporting career in the mid 80’s women had not yet fully gained the access to the sports locker rooms that they have today. Once the process began, there were so many obstacles these women had to face and I saw first- hand how unfair some of the veteran sports reporters were which made the locker room tough for them.

There were two women that were the pioneers in breaking down those barriers and because of them a much needed diversity entered the sports reporting world. Those 2 people are Claire Smith and Susyn Waldman-2 reporters I have had intense respect for from the moment I met them.

Let me start with Claire Smith because she was the first women to ever cover Major League Baseball for any newspaper serving as the beat reporter for The Hartford Courant on the New York Yankee beat for five years and followed that up by being a columnist for over 15 years at both The New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. She currently holds the position of News Editor of Remote Productions at ESPN as her handprint can be vividly seen on programming like SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight.

She will be receiving the 2017 J.G. Taylor Spink Award at The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer which is a long overdue acknowledgement of her contribution to our industry. The thing that Smith brought to the forefront is that women deserved EVERY right to stand alongside men in the locker room and she did it facing every roadblock you could imagine.

My very first day covering the Mets in 1984 two veteran writers were chatting about how the presence of women in the locker room must be stopped and this duo was well known at the time. I honestly thought I was hearing a conversation in a time tunnel circa 1870 and could not believe my ears. In my early years in the business, I had 2 female bosses while at both Lifetime and The Discovery Channel and I must say any chauvinistic tendencies I possessed were knocked out of me. But so many male reporters were only living in this male world and their worst stereotypes of women came to the surface every single day.

I heard the story about Claire Smith in the Padre locker room during the 1984 NLCS as she was physically removed from the San Diego locker room. To the credit of Padre first basemen Steve Garvey, he met her outside and agreed to do the interview which forced Major League Baseball to declare the next day that equal access in all baseball locker rooms must exist.

Think about that for a minute—she was physically removed by some clubhouse attendant treated like a prisoner. But she knew deep down in her heart she had to stand up what she believed in and also was very cognizant this could be a watershed moment for all aspiring women reporters.

In those years, I talked with her briefly as I was a young reporter and she gave me solid advice on how to act in a locker room and how to work every corner of a baseball clubhouse. The amazing thing was she did this for someone she barely knew and her advice would only help me. To this day, I remember that when a young reporter asks me a question I try to exhibit the patience and class that she exhibited to me. I will never approach that level of class but try to emulate it just a little bit so I can help someone in the same fashion she helped me.

From a broadcasting standpoint, Susyn Waldman is also someone every one of us should look up to and I hope to be in Cooperstown the day she ultimately heads into the broadcasting wing of The Hall Of Fame. Susyn appeared on the scene in NY as WFAN launched-in fact she was the first voice ever heard on that July day in 1987 when sports radio hit The Big Apple airwaves. I got to know her in early 90’s as she served in a multitude of roles at WFAN including Yankee and Knick beat reporter while I was covering baseball and basketball for ABC Radio.

I loved talking sports with her as she always chatted about it in such a conversational way making analysis easy to understand. She also had a great way in the locker room as players really enjoyed talking to her and opened up in a much different way than they did with other reporters. When I joined WFAN in the mid 90’s Susyn and I already knew each other and she always made me feel welcome whenever we worked together on a shift or when I saw her at the ballpark.

We sometimes forget that she brokered the meeting that brought Yogi Berra and George Steinbrenner together after a 14 year period in which the 2 did not speak to each other. Both men might have left each other without mending broken fences and she put that meeting together in her own way.

But I always heard the rumblings from my some of my male media colleagues that they thought they were better than her and even if they were nice to her outwardly, they tried to discredit her at every chance. I noticed it at WFAN’s studios in a vivid way one day when I was producing on a super busy Sunday NFL/late season baseball Sunday. Content was flying in all day that needed to be edited and Susyn called in with a voice report which I told her she had to redo since Bernie Williams drove in 4 runs-not 3 as she had mentioned in the report.

She revised it and thanked me and then one of the other editors said to me that I should E-Mail management about the mistake because they always did that. I asked why as they sensed I questioned them with a very perturbed voice. They admitted that they only did with Susan’s reports and I said to them I would NEVER do that to anyone. The important thing is the listener got the correct info and we are all here to help each other.

At that very moment, I totally understood why Susyn would sometimes be gruff with the people taking in her content. It reminded me of the idiotic dialogue I had with writers in the mid 80’s who complained about the presence of women reporters. I learned early in my life that diversity is a good thing—and I was so lucky to be around Susyn because her excellence taught me what I needed to get better at and she always did it in a one on one conversation—never in a large group. The sad thing for me is I will never be able to repay her for the help she gave me and what’s even sadder is how these men who made her life difficult never benefited from her advice.

Susyn was a pioneer for women but also for every one of us that serves as a radio baseball beat reporter because she created the need for this position that gave listeners inside information while providing an advertising revenue source all at the same time. If Susyn and Ed Coleman did not kick butt on their jobs as they did every single day, I would NEVER have been able to carve out my niche as a Met Beat Reporter at ESPN. In many ways, she was a pioneer for men and women alike.

Susyn Waldman also became a radio talk show host at WFAN and would later join the YES Network and then serve as a color analyst on the radio broadcast team with John Sterling detailing every moment of Yankee baseball. There is no woman in New York that has done more for eradicating the awful stereo types that have existed for years in sportscasting. And she did with hard work coupled with caring about the young people in the business who will be our future reporters. Simply put, those are Hall Of Fame credentials.

The presence of women in the locker rooms continued to grow but incidents would always filter to the surface with 2 notable incidents involving Erin Andrews and Lisa Olson. Both are very skilled and the readers and viewers of sports have benefited from their contribution. While working at ESPN, I would occasionally see Erin Andrews and her knowledge of college sports was top of your line. She knew people but she also was able break down a game like a veteran while at the same time deliver in-game interviews that were very interesting because she did not ask the typical questions.

In 2009, Andrews was the victim of stalking as Michael David Barrett took videos from an adjoining hotel room and was arrested on charges of interstate stalking but the story got worse. Apparently, the hotel was involved in the incident as it provided Barret with dates she was staying at the hotel as well as giving him the adjoining room granting him access needed to record nude photos and distribute them on the internet.

Barrett was convicted of the crime and a civil suit ensued where a jury awarded her $55 Million in damages from both Barrett and the hotel. Erin Andrews’s personal privacy was violated in a number of ways and to this day, some sports reporters snicker about it indicating she knew about the photos. Nothing could be further from the truth and the only outrage I have is the ease in which this stalker gained access to recording Erin Andrews in the nude and distributing it on the internet. Nobody deserves to be treated in that fashion and I give her credit for seeing the civil case through without succumbing to the public pressure she had to endure-in essence, she became a victim twice.

The Lisa Olson story is just as troubling as in 1990 she was abused by several members of The New England Patriots who taunted her by walking naked right in front of her. Zeke Mowatt touched himself in a private place right in front of her which to me should have generated a season long suspension by the NFL.

Properly, Lisa Olsen complained calling the incident “mind rape” while Patriots team owner Victor Kiam called her “a classic bitch” and then told a crude joke in public saying when he asked what do the Iraquis have in common with Lisa Olson , “They’ve both seen Patriot missiles up close.” Things got so bad for her that she received hate mail and death threats while her apartment was burglarized.

Lisa Olson transferred to write in Australia but returned to the United States in 1998 taking a position with The New York Daily News. This is a great writer who was treated so badly by both the people who for all intents and purposes assaulted her while at the same had to become a victim again as both the Patriots and the NFL turned their heads. Meeting Lisa you can readily see that she loves sports and writes so well.

Another trailblazer for women in sports was The Fabulous Sports Babe who was a fixture in the early days of ESPN Radio. She performed the network’s first weekday syndicated sports show and was so popular she was heard in more than 500 cities in the country. She was also one of the prime reasons ESPN 2 got off the ground as her radio show was simulcast on the network.

She was a trendsetter in 2 ways as she became the first female sports show host to ever be syndicated nationally but also provided the first real glimpse of a national show combining entertainment with sports. I will be the first to admit her style was brash but it honestly gave us a peek into the future.

Another trailblazer was Robin Roberts who we think of today as a newscaster but her work at ESPN was top of the line. However, the courage she has shown goes far beyond her on-air work. Robin has faced so many health issues including both breast cancer and a disease of the bone marrow and yet continues to live her life to the fullest. In many ways, she was the most versatile broadcaster I’ve ever been around when you consider she excelled on both SportsCenter and Good Morning America. Her courage has no boundaries and every aspiring journalist needs to understand that she represents a professional that was given tough break after tough break but has never quit.

I firmly believe the trailblazers I have mentioned above have created an atmosphere where women can be treated equally in the sports reporting business. But there are always slipups and setbacks as we have seen over the years. I’ve been around so many women in this business I admire and I feel they must be applauded for never backing down.

They include Sam Ryan, Kim Jones, Linda Cohn, Hannah Storm, Meredith Marakovitz, Tina Cervasio, and Anita Marks. I have directly worked with each of them in the same companies and their resolve is a direct result of what the female trailblazers did in setting the stage for an equal playing field with the male broadcasters.

The sad thing is every once awhile even today you see women media people treated badly. As men we can never understand what they must go through because we never had to walk in their shoes. The best thing we can do is point out these incidents immediately and fight for their rights to have the same resources to do their jobs that we possess.

The Lisa Olson and Erin Andrews stories bring out a huge point in today’s world-stalking can lead to sexual abuse and as men we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I have become directly involved with The Joyful Heart Foundation so I can learn more about spotting it as its founder, Mariska Hargitay (star of Law & Order SVU) is constantly using her resources to get the word out.

Nobody is ever going to make me believe that the NFL did not have knowledge of the Ray Rice footage before it was publicly revealed. They hid it because they did not want a scandal but did all involved a huge disservice. I credit Major League Baseball for taking far greater steps than the NFL in a number of ways. They hold players accountable while demanding they take the necessary steps in rehabilitating themselves. And trust me those steps are real-they are monitored by numerous people and Rob Manfred takes this very seriously.

And I firmly the presence of female reporters have brought these issues to light much quicker than they would have had diversity not been present in the sports reporting world. Sports always mirror society and sometimes when society has to take big steps, sports needs to lead the parade. They did in 1947 with Jackie Robinson. But women’s rights in this business took years to develop and the sports profession should be embarrassed about that.

In many ways the duo I mentioned at the top of this chapter, helped us catch up. And for that we must always be grateful for the contributions of Claire Smith and Susyn Waldman—pioneers in every sense of the word.

I sincerely hope we can make changes in our profession with full diversity including diversity in the senior management positions in sports. After events of the past few days, we need that diversity more than ever.

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